The terms biohacking and wetware hacking emphasize the connection to hacker culture and the hacker ethic. The term hacker is used in the original sense of finding new and clever ways to do things. The terms are used to refer to several things: Grinders (biohacking), self-experimentation in medicine, nutrigenomics, and the quantified self.
Grinders are people that alter their own bodies by implanting do-it-yourself cybernetic devices:
Grinders are people who apply the hacker ethic to improve their own bodies with do-it-yourself cybernetic devices or introducing chemicals into the body to enhance or change their bodies' functionality. Many grinders identify with the biopunk movement, open-source transhumanism, and techno-progressivism. The Grinder movement is strongly associated with the body modification movement and practices actual implantation of cybernetic devices in organic bodies as a method of working towards transhumanism, such as designing and installing do-it-yourself body-enhancements such as magnetic implants. Biohacking emerged in a growing trend of non-institutional science and technology development.
According to Biohack.me, "Grinders are passionate individuals who believe the tools and knowledge of science belong to everyone. Grinders practice functional extreme body modification in an effort to improve the human condition. [Grinders] hack [them]selves with electronic hardware to extend and improve human capacities. Grinders believe in action, [thei]r bodies the experiment."
"Biohacking" can also refer to managing one's own biology using a combination of medical, nutritional and electronic techniques. This may include the use of nootropics, non-toxic substances, and/or cybernetic devices for recording biometric data (as in the Quantified Self movement).
Self-experimentation in medicine
Self-experimentation in medicine refers to scientific experimentation in which the experimenter conducts the experiment on her- or himself. Often this means that the designer, operator, subject, analyst, and user or reporter of the experiment are all the same. Self-experimentation has a long and well-documented history in medicine which continues to the present. Some of these experiments have been very valuable and shed new and often unexpected insights into different areas of medicine.
There are many motivations for self-experiment. These include the wish to get results quickly and avoid the need for a formal organisational structure, to take the ethical stance of taking the same risk as volunteers, or just a desire to do good for humanity. Other ethical issues include whether a researcher should self-experiment because another volunteer would not get the same benefit as the researcher will get, and the question of whether informed consent of a volunteer can truly be given by those outside a research program.
A number of distinguished scientists have indulged in self-experimentation, including at least five Nobel laureates; in several cases, the prize was awarded for findings the self-experimentation made possible. Many experiments were dangerous; various people exposed themselves to pathogenic, toxic or radioactive materials. Some self-experimenters, like Jesse Lazear and Daniel Alcides Carrión, died in the course of their research. Notable examples of self-researchers occur in many fields; infectious disease (Jesse Lazear: yellow fever, Max von Pettenkofer: cholera), vaccines (Daniel Zagury: AIDS), cancer (Nicholas Senn, Jean-Louis-Marc Alibert), blood (Karl Landsteiner, William J. Harrington), and drugs (Albert Hofmann, and too many others to list). Research has not been limited to disease and drugs. John Stapp tested the limits of human deceleration, Humphry Davy breathed nitrous oxide, and Nicholas Senn pumped hydrogen into his gastrointestinal tract to test the utility of the method for diagnosing perforations.
Nutrigenomics uses nutrition to hack/take control of the human biology. It is a science studying the relationship between human genome, nutrition and health. People in the field work toward developing an understanding of how the whole body responds to a food via systems biology, as well as single gene/single food compound relationships.
Quantified self measures various biomarkers and behaviors to try to optimize health. Also known as lifelogging, it is a specific movement by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly from Wired magazine, which began in 2007 and tries to incorporate technology into data acquisition on aspects of a person's daily life. People collect data in terms of food consumed, quality of surrounding air, mood, skin conductance as a proxy for arousal, pulse oximetry for blood oxygen level, and performance, whether mental or physical. Wolf has described quantified self as "self-knowledge through self-tracking with technology".
People choose to wear self-monitoring and self-sensing sensors (e.g. EEG, ECG) and wearable computing to collect data. Among the specific biometrics one can track are insulin and cortisol levels, sequence DNA, and the microbial cells which inhabit one's body.
Other terms for using self-tracking data to improve daily functioning are self-tracking, auto-analytics, body hacking, self-quantifying, self-surveillance, and personal informatics.
Like any empirical study, the primary method is the collection and analysis of data. In many cases, data are collected automatically using wearable sensors -not limited to, but often worn on the wrist. In other cases, data may be logged manually.
The data are typically analyzed using traditional techniques such as linear regression to establish correlations among the variables under investigation. As in every attempt to understand potentially high-dimensional data, visualization techniques can suggest hypotheses that may be tested more rigorously using formal methods. One simple example of a visualization method is to view the change in some variable – say weight in pounds – over time.
Even though the idea is not new, the technology is. Many people would track what they would eat or how much physical activity they got within a week. Technology has made it easier and simpler to gather and analyze personal data. Since these technologies have become smaller and cheaper to be put in smart phones or tablets, it is easier to take the quantitative methods used in science and business and apply them to the personal sphere.
Narratives constitute a symbiotic relationship with bodies of large data. Therefore, quantified self participants are encouraged to share their experiences of self-tracking at various conferences and meetings.